The U.S. military intends to protect American commercial ships against Iranian threats in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz but will not provide naval escorts in every case, the newly installed defense secretary said Wednesday.
The aim of the U.S. naval and air presence in the Gulf area is to deter Iran from threatening to stop or seize any American commercial ship, Mark Esper told reporters on his first full day as Pentagon chief.
Esper, who previously served as the Army’s top civilian official, was confirmed by the Senate and sworn at the White House on Tuesday, ending a seven-month absence of a confirmed defense secretary.
He indicated that addressing the Iran issue is one of his first priorities. Threats to navigation in the Gulf have become an international issue in recent months as Iran has responded to increased U.S. economic sanctions that have strangled its oil exports.
Last week Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Afterward, U.S. Central Command said it began extra U.S. aerial patrols. Also last week, the U.S. Navy said it destroyed one, and possibly two, Iranian drones that had made what the Navy called threatening moves against the amphibious assault ship Boxer in the Strait.